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Report: Lead Poisoning ‘Off the Charts’ in U.S.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

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“Nearly 3,000 areas in the U.S. have lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint [MI] during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis,” a new report finds.

In an assessment of national lead testing data, Reuters said lead poisoning hotspots are scattered across the country, from Warren, PA, where 36 percent of children tested had high lead levels; to pockets in Cleveland, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

lead paint chips
© / XiFotos

At least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead, CDC says. The new report analyzes lead testing data in 21 states.

Unlike Flint, many of these locations have received little national attention or funding to fight the poisoning, which the report says comes from aging paint, plumbing and industrial waste.

The report, "Off the Charts: The thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than in Flint," includes an interactive map and highlights cases around the country.

Comparing Flint

Flint was thrust into national spotlight in early 2016 when troubling levels of lead were found in drinking water due to corrosive pipes. The report says 5 percent of children there had elevated lead levels at the peak of the contamination.

In its analysis, Reuters found more than 1,100 of the 3,000 communities identified had a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher than Flint. Experts call the findings eye-opening and alarming.

The report notes that “since the heavy metal was phased out from paint and gasoline in the late 1970s, children’s average blood lead levels have dropped by more than 90 percent.

“That success story masks a sober reality in neighborhoods where risk abatement has failed,” the report says, citing experts.

The report relies on data obtained from state health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and covers 21 states, home to around 61 percent of the U.S. population, Reuters said. Some states provided data from 2005 through 2015, while others could only provide five years, the report notes.

‘Half a Million’ Children

The CDC says there is no safe level of lead, but puts the current threshold for an elevated blood lead level at 5 micrograms per deciliter. Above this level, the CDC recommends a public health response.

lead test
© / jarun011

The CDC lead reference value is 5 micrograms per deciliter.

Nationwide, at least 4 million households include children who are being exposed to high levels of lead, CDC says, estimating that approximately half a million children ages 1-5 have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

The Reuters report highlights the story of a Missouri pediatrician whose two daughters tested with high lead levels. The doctor blamed lead-based paint in their 1883 historic home and abated the hazard.

“While poverty remains a potent predictor of lead poisoning, the victims span the American spectrum—poor and rich, rural and urban, black and white,” Reuters reports.


Tagged categories: Government; Lead; Lead paint abatement; Lead test kits; Maintenance + Renovation; Renovation; Residential contractors

Comment from Jesse Melton, (1/10/2017, 9:12 AM)

This is never going to get better under the current system of abatement. It's insane to actually expect everyday people to pay what lead abatement specialists charge. That's the problem with government mandates that override the decisions previously made by the government. If it's safety related it's an instant business maker and of course the paint guys are going to take a 2-hour test and put some Tyvek suits on when it increases their hourly rate 300%. Nobody is actually concerned about the lead, just how they can profit from it.

We live in a small old house and 130+ years of lead based everything was used throughout the structure. We are in the position to deal with the problem, but most people aren't. Especially those who live in older buildings because they have no choice. Our house had been partially renovated in the 1980's and the owner had paid out over $20k in lead abatement costs then! It was tested and there's a nice little certificate in the documentation that accompanied the house that ensured compliance had been tested and standards met. It's too bad test equipment continues to improve because the structure is no longer lead free. For slightly less than the new standing seam roof cost the painters/lead abatement specialists came and did the work again.

Now over $40k has gone into dealing with the lead and articles on this very site have covered new lead test kits with higher resolution. I have little faith that in five years another round of testing will show a lead free house.

Most people don't have $20k+ in cash laying around or even the means to get the money from the bank. If they own the house and have a place to go while lead abatement is underway and the resources to miss work to deal with the absurd amount of paperwork they can apply for Federal and State financial assistance. But pretty much anyone who can arrange that doesn't qualify for upfront assistance. They've got to front the money and get reimbursed after test results are completed and confirmed. I would not be comfortable fronting $20k to Bob's Painting & Lead Abatement company. I don't know who would. I'm guessing nobody, since that's the way the system is built.

Lead is a problem with a solution, but everybody gets a wet in the eyes if they can't make a bunch of money. Between the tax offices, real estate companies and mortgage companies and the businesses that support them there's a very robust housing inventory dataset that can serve as a checklist for lead free houses and buildings. Let the Feds put together teams of actual laborers and knock the lead abatement work out one structure at a time. Hire a company to do the job nationwide, I don't care about the details. I care about ending four decades of studies and tears that leave no doubt lead is a problem. Until the commercial abuse of safety as a cost justification is eliminated there's no point in doing more studies and public awareness campaigns. That's money that can go towards an actual solution.

Comment from Jesse Melton, (1/10/2017, 9:15 AM)

Why do my comments post twice sometimes? I think they're probably too long to begin with. Twice as long probably doesn't make them more relevant and valid. Maybe it does. The computer thinks so.

Comment from Jesse Melton, (1/10/2017, 9:15 AM)


Comment from M. Halliwell, (1/10/2017, 10:48 AM)

Jesse, just wait until the US follows Canada and some EU countries and drops the acceptable regulatory lead content levels to 90 mg/kg (ppm) from the current 5000 mg/kg...then you can pay again for another abatement.

Comment from Mark Lewis, (1/10/2017, 12:58 PM)

My concern with these lead stories is that the media often misunderstand the source of the lead. Lead-in-water (i.e. Flint) is a very different source than lead paint chips in older homes. My water agency recently had to defend itself against incorrect media reports that high blood-lead levels in a local neighborhood were assumed to come from the water. This was absolutely not the case, but nevertheless, the media was able to conflate lead based paint and lead contaminated drinking water.

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